George Adamson and Christian at Kora, Kenya

George Adamson and Christian at Kora, Kenya

CAMPAIGN AGAINST CANNED HUNTING: The CACH campaign seems to be growing – and not surprisingly, as so few reasonable people would support the farming of lions to be hunted. I now ring travel agents when I see advertisements for tours to Africa and check they are sending their clients to reputable wildlife sanctuaries. Canned Hunting was also mentioned in a recent 60 Minutes story on Kevin Richardson and his lovely shampooed looking lions in South Africa.  Richardson is on the “reputable” list – but I do think he takes risks with the lions, even though they adore him. I did finally watch the story that was on Dateline SBS in January How Much Would You Pay to Kill a Lion?  I could hardly watch as lions were shot and the hunters gloated over their successful kills.

Lion, bear and tiger – once the pets of a drug dealer, and now still cohabiting.

Lion, bear and tiger – once the pets of a drug dealer, and now still cohabiting.

In Australia, a Liberal Party MP Jason Wood gave a speech in the House of Representatives about canned hunting and against importing lion and animal parts into Australia.  I very much appreciate his efforts. You can sign his petition here. This is what needs to happen in the USA and Europe. I received a formal (unsigned) response from The White House and Barack Obama to my email about the importation of lion and animals parts into the USA.  He “shared my concern for animal welfare”.  At least someone received it!

 

AVAAZ: They are running a campaign in South Africa against the trade in lion parts. They intend for this campaign to hurt South Africa as a tourist destination so sign their petition here. There is also a petition about the illegal sale of exotic animal parts – and ivory – on eBay – sign the petition here.  Whenever I say “sign here” rather bossily, I know you all make up your own minds, but I know most of you care deeply about many of these issues.

 

TONY THE TIGER:  Shamefully, the Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has “quietly” signed a bill allowing the owner of Tony the Tiger to keep him as a roadside attraction.  The ALDF are filing a lawsuit for violating the State Constitution.  This is SO depressing – I do urge any Americans to ring the Governor and express your displeasure. This is completely unacceptable. Read more on the update here.

Angel the dolphine. Image sources Austalia for DolphinsAngel the dolphine. Image sources Austalia for Dolphins

Angel the dolphin. Image sourced: Australia for Dolphins

ACTION FOR ANGEL: Yet another story of an imprisoned animal for our “entertainment”. Angel, the albino dolphin calf is in a tiny indoor tank at the Taiji Whale Museum. Sign the petition here organised by Australia for Dolphins – and they ask for us to circulate it. The Japanese seem determined to continue hunting whales…and their annual slaughter of dolphins at Taiji. This Sunday 29th June there is a Whale of a Debate at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney (at 2.30pm) discussing historical and contemporary anti-whaling.  Speakers will include members of the Sea Shepherd and conservationist and photographer Jonny Lewis.

Alice Walker with Caroline Baum at The Sydney Writers' Festival. Image source: The Guardian. Photograph by Prudence Upton

Alice Walker with Caroline Baum at The Sydney Writers’ Festival. Image source: The Guardian. Photograph by Prudence Upton

ALICE WALKER: The Sydney Writers Festival was on recently and while I did not attend, I heard and saw various interviews on radio and television. It did make me think – we have so many intelligent, perceptive, compassionate and ingenious people in the world – why is our country (and the world) run by so many moronic people that just don’t get it? I know I can be slow onto some things, but I am now mad on Alice Walker – she get’s it!  I hung on her every word and will now start reading her intensively. I feel as if I know The Color Purple although I’m not sure if I read the book in the 1980s or saw the movie.

When asked for her advice for Obama Alice said “RUN”!  She hates the use of drones and that he is part of the “war machine”.  “Aren’t we smarter than buying weapons?”  “We have to change the system” – all presidents are hostage to it. The capitalist system is now part of the problem. She supports the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and thinks women would make more empathetic leaders.

While nature is for her a “balm” that we “abuse”, writing is a “medicine”. She listens to, and “only”works for her ancestors. Fiction has a “freedom”, while poetry is autonomous. It “descends”, you “can’t chase after it”, and the “muse comes at will”.  She named Tolstoy and Dostoevsky first when asked which writers she admires. She saw her mother and grandmother enslaved by their many children so didn’t particularly want to be a mother.  I thought she was amusing about her daughter who has been quite critical of her in the past, although I’m sure this was hurtful. She wants us to” turn to each other” and “talk things through”. Life’s purpose and why she isn’t sitting on her cushion meditating “or scuba diving” is “we exist to help each other”. “The deep joy is to show up for others”.   For her, this included being part of the flotilla that sailed to Gaza in 2010.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

USA: Last month saw yet another senseless mass shooting in the USA. One of the victim’s father Richard Martinez was so articulate asking: “Why did Chris die?  Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians, and the NRA…. What has changed?  Have we learned nothing?  Where the hell is the leadership?…  Life doesn’t have to be like this”. When members of the US Congress rang him offering him condolences he said “I don’t care about your sympathy. I don’t give a shit that you feel sorry for me.  Get to work and DO something”.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

In Glenn Greenwald’s recent book No Place to Hide he describes his encounter with Edward Snowden. He had to put his mobile phone in the hotel mini bar – as now anything can be transformed into a listening device!  He says the Snowden cache reveals a regime seeking “the complete elimination of electronic privacy worldwide”!

Hillary Clinton was very articulate in an interview on our ABC promoting her book Hard Choices. Phillip Adams and his guests were not flattering about her on his radio program. They found the book  mostly tedious and boring.  Adams choked over the $14 million advance!  They acknowledged that she is very hard working and clever, but thought she was a better administrator than a politician. It appears as if she is already campaigning for the Presidency and certainly has a chance, especially as she has such good “name recognition”.  Adams prefers Elizabeth Warren.  Hillary and I are about the same age (and both Scorpios) and I have fantasised, as you do, wondering if I could physically and mentally do a big job like that now.  I don’t think I ever could have!  Americans are less ageist than we are in Australia, and I do think Hillary appeared quite good as Secretary of State, especially compared to John Kerry.

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer  Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas

CLIMATE CHANGE: Well done Obama for acting on climate change with the US cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by 2020. Our PM Abbott was recently in Canada and wanted to form a conservative climate change deniers club with PM Harper, but the UK and NZ did not want to join. Next day (after dinner with Rupert Murdoch) Abbott was star struck meeting Obama and said he and Obama’s climate change policies were very close, which is just a complete lie. Next day he was praising King Coal in Houston and saying the world would be dependent on coal “for decades”. What does this man actually believe?

Abbott has succeeded – so far – in ensuring climate change is not on the agenda at the November G20 meeting  of world leaders in Australia!

 

GOOD ARTICLES: Paul Krugman has written an excellent article on climate change in the New York Times. Krugman argues that the economic impact of carbon reductions is actually quite modest – despite the scare mongering, and the debate is a “toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism” which is very true of our conservative politicians and businessmen in Australia.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate change movement 350.org writes in an article that Abbott and Harper have put nations “on the road to disaster”.  He points out how Harper was a former oil executive and how he has been described as a bully, “intolerant of criticism and dissent”.  The development of the Canadian tar sands and Australia’s coal in the Galilee basin alone could ensure it would be impossible to ever bring the world’s temperatures under control. He notes, however, that their extremism is spawning “widespread resistance”.

There was an excellent summary about action on climate change in the editorial in the SMH June 24th see here.

Ian Dunlop, a former oil, gas and coal industry executive, recently wrote in the SMH that our federal government “is taking anti-science to new heights. Its scorched earth approach discards virtually everything not in line with narrow, free market ideology centred on sustaining Australia’s 20th century dig-it-up-and-ship-it-out economic growth model”.  Dunlop goes on to say that the government’s Direct Action white paper has no scientific and economic grounding…and is “the climate policy you have when you don’t want a policy”.

Uncertainty is affecting – as was intended – investment and confidence in the renewable energy sector.

Encouragingly, the tide may be turning, and just when this government is about to remove our effective carbon tax, 63% of Australians are now increasingly concerned about climate change (again) and now believe we should be taking a “a leadership role in reducing emissions”.

In the most surprising move, our billionaire mining maverick politician Clive Palmer, who through several senators holds the balance of power in the Senate, turned up at a press conference with Al Gore by his side!  No-one is sure yet what this means for action on climate change, and if this was just a stunt and Gore has been played as a sucker. Palmer mines coal and nickel so will love not having to pay a hefty carbon tax.  We could be left without an emissions trading scheme and a plan to do nothing, but Palmer, apparently at Gore’s urging,  seems to now want to retain the Renewable Energy Target and oppose the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corp and the Climate Change Authority.

forests

CELEBRITIES FOR THE ENVIRONMENT: About to air in the USA is a television series, Years of Living Dangerously  which urges action on climate change and has the involvement of industry heavyweights and celebrities like James Cameron, Matt Damon and Harrison Ford.

Leonardo DiCaprio recently spoke out about the damage to the Great Barrier Reef, which is at risk of being listed as “in danger”.  Leonardo has witnessed the changes for the worse since he first swam there 20 years ago.  This year he has donated $US10 million to ocean conservation, and $4 million to tiger and elephant projects.

Geoffrey Rush spoke up about our government’s attempt to delist 74,000 hectares of Tasmania’s forests which has just been rejected by the World Heritage Committee. Our government’s arguments for delisting were described as a “feeble justification”, while many people were shocked that the delisting had been attempted in the first place.

 

boy with fish

IPA:  I am only just beginning to comprehend the undue and insidious influence of the conservative “think tank” the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) in Australia. This ideologically conservative group is our Tea Party, but smarter and therefore more dangerous. Abbott addressed them in April last year  and the audience included the unholy alliance of Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart and Cardinal Pell!!!

Until I read this article I had no idea of the influence of the IPA on the country, and on Abbott who is implementing many of their policies.  I have already discussed the appointment of several of these climate change denying, older businessmen to key positions and reviews:  Tony Shepherd conducting the heartless Commission of Audit; Dick Warburton reviewing the Renewable Energy Target; and Maurice Newman, Chairman of the PM’s Business Advisory Council.

The IPA are skilled propagandists and work through fronts such as the Australian Conservation Foundation which is actually anti-conservation!  They “muddied the waters” recently over the attempt to delist part of the Tasmanian forest.  In what has been described as a “global conspiracy” the IPA have led an active campaign (courtesy Murdoch press) against the plain packaging of cigarettes, trying to make a case it has led to more smoking – which apparently it has not.  The IPA are funded by companies such as Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Esso and Caltex.

Our PM was recently abroad – his school boy French in France was excruciating – worse than mine, and he has a certain gaucheness which could be endearing if he was not our PM.  I liked the letter to The Australian newspaper which stated “I am confused – there appears to be two Tony Abbotts travelling around North America, one as described by the Fairfax and ABC media outlets and another Tony Abbott as reported by The Australian”. (from Michael Burd, Toorak, Victoria).

Australia does seem to be currently divided along these lines.  Murdoch controls over 70% of the print media and unashamedly and uncritically supports the government,  backed up by a few popular and shrill radio shock jocks. Their targets consistently include the Fairfax media and especially the ABC.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks as Jedda

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks as Jedda

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks starred in the film Jedda which was a very dramatic and tragic Australian film made by Charles Chauvel in 1955.  Jedda was about race and forbidden love, and was way ahead of its time.  After retreating to a convent, Rosalie emerged to become a respected Aboriginal elder and leader.

Recently on a television program (Q & A on the ABC) a fellow guest who I think was Peter Coleman, suggested that the “Aboriginal problem” could be “fixed” by assimilation into white society.  Rosalie responded with the most brilliant and emphatic declaration of her Aboriginality and who she was.  She was reported (inaccurately) in the press as saying:

“My language is (Arrernte) in spite of the whiteness trying to penetrate into my brain by assimilationists – I am alive, I am here and now – and I speak my language. I practise my cultural essence of me. Don’t try and suppress me and don’t call me a problem. I am not the problem”. See the footage of her full response here.

 

UTOPIA: John Pilger’s documentary Utopia examines the present situation for Aboriginal people.  Rosalie actually comes from Utopia. The documentary is too long but devastating nevertheless.  Pilger has filed several stories over the decades on this subject, and very little seems to have changed.  One wonders if things have actuallyeven got worse in many respects for Aboriginal people: their housing; health; employment opportunities; incarceration rates; suicide epidemics etc. These days the Labor Government and the “left” are criticised with some justification for failing Aboriginal people. Many people like myself have supported Aboriginal “self-determination” and we have also been criticised for caring about digging up and trashing the environment. Apparently we have  held Aboriginal people back from economic development.  I would caution Aborigines from expecting too much from conservative governments and the mining industry…

Alice Walker: “The coloniser does not have the capacity to feel remorse – I don’t see it – even today”.

Ace in Michael Riley’s exhibition Strength and Beauty, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Ace in Michael Riley’s exhibition, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

MICHAEL RILEY: Michael Riley was a leading Aboriginal photographer who died in 2004. The National Portrait Gallery recently purchased a selection of his portraits taken between 1984 and 1989 and these photographs are currently on exhibition.  Michael’s subjects at this time were his extraordinary generation of attractive and talented Aboriginals that had emerged and broken the stereotypes in many ways – not least how they were represented.  They included artist Tracey Moffatt, politician Linda Burney and curators Djon Mundine, Brenda Croft and Hetti Perkins.  I was asked to speak at the NPG as I was a friend and had exhibited Michael Riley.  I am also on the Michael Riley Foundation.  More of Michael’s work can be seen at www.thecommercialgallery.com or www.michaelriley.com.au.

Darrell by Micahel Riley

Darrell by Michael Riley

Maria by Michael Riley

Maria by Michael Riley

Animals Category winner in the iPhone Awards, Michael O’Neal of San Francisco said that he came across this friendly fox in the Wyoming wilds. “I sat in the road for 10 minutes with him…no cars, not a soul around, just me and this red fox” he said. Foxes and cats are primarily blamed and demonised  for Australia’s extinction rate of native animals which is “the worst in the world”.  We are losing one mammal every decade and have lost 28 or 29 since colonisation in 1788, with 60 presently endangered.

Fox by Michael O'Neal in the 7th iPhone Photography Awards

Fox by Michael O’Neal in the 7th iPhone Photography Awards

AG-GAG LAWS: It is going to become an offence to film inhumane conditions for animals in Australia.  In the USA it is already an offence for any “audio or video recording” at a farm facility. Why is it not an offence to have animals cruelly confined in appalling conditions?

 

ISRAEL: The Australian government created yet another unnecessary problem for themselves by arguing that East Jerusalem was “disputed” and not “occupied”.  Israel is the only country in the world to articulate similar views. Our government argued that this was not a change of policy, but they have been changing their position over Israel by stealth, illustrated by several votes, or abstentions, at the UN.  Trade sanctions over our cattle, sheep and wheat exports were subsequently threatened against Australia by Arab and Islamic countries,  and 22 international diplomatic representatives demanded to meet our Foreign Minister in Canberra.

Israel is building 3000 more settlement homes in the Occupied Territories as a punishment for the reconciliation between the PLO in the West Bank and Hamas, who control Gaza.  Many Palestinians are also being punished at the moment  because of  3 missing Israeli teenagers.  While  their disappearance is extremely concerning – what about the 7 Palestinians that have been killed in the search for them?  Israeli forces seem to have rampaged through many Palestinian houses, and harassed and detained hundreds of people.

Alice Walker on Israel: “The land they are taking is not theirs and they have to give it back”.  She actually made her remark that “the coloniser does not have the capacity to feel remorse” about Israel, but said it applied everywhere – Australia, USA etc.  She also said that with $3 billion a year coming from the US to Israel, “we can’t afford you”.  Her participation in the flotilla to Gaza in 2010 demonstrated her courage and commitment.

 

horse leap

 

MIDDLE EAST: Iraq is disintegrating and in the absence of any solutions it is tempting to just think Iraq and Syria should be left to unravel.   Their borders are an unnatural colonial construct and they should regroup along more natural tribal and sectarian lines. It is the humanitarian catastrophe for so many innocent civilians that is most concerning. Tony Blair is still in denial, blaming the Iraqi PM and inaction over Syria. I loved Boris Johnston saying  “Tony Blair has gone mad”. George Bush Jr and our John Howard have been VERY quiet.  Cheney is as cocky and without remorse as ever, and seems to blame Obama.

Many millions of us marched around the world against the invasion of Iraq, and we were right!  I did mention the threat and ambitions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) several blogs back – how has everyone been taken by surprise?  It is a complete intelligence failure. The thug in the suit, Nouri al-Maliki was an appalling choice as PM by the West and he has made no attempt to include the Sunnis or Kurds.  Even now he is refusing to consider a unity government. One of many disastrous decisions by the USA was to de Baathify Iraq as it left no-one with any experience for administration or the army, and just created many disaffected and resentful enemies. The Sunni-Shiite split goes back to the succession to the prophet Muhammad after his death in 632!  Shiities say Ali, the prophet’s cousin was the rightful successor and was cheated by the Sunnis “Rightfully Guided Caliphs” Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman and Ali!!!!!

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal

READING, LISTENING & WATCHING: Wimbledon is on and I was thrilled of course that Rafa won recently in Paris. This was his 9th French Open.  It was a great victory and he is now equal second with Pete Sampras on 14 Majors. Elizabeth Wilson has recently written a book LOVE GAME A History of Tennis.   Her book sounds very informative historically and unlike most sports, women participated from the start.  Like many people today, she prefers Federer’s graceful style to Rafa grinding his opponents down in a “python strangle”.

NSW has finally won the State of Origin rugby league after Queensland won for 8 years straight. I am sort of watching the World Cup but prefer the news reports of the few spectacular goals. This sport is building in Australia, especially as there are serious injuries – especially concussion, in the rugby union and league codes. Soccer officials will have to do something about the blatant corruption, like awarding the World Cup to Qatar.

OK, I confess I have been watching The Voice.  I don’t care too much about the contestants but I love the judges: Ricky Martin is, well, Ricky, Kylie Minogue has been surprisingly engaging, Joel Madden goes down very well in Australia and will.i.am is brilliant!

I haven’t read anything by the serial novelist (4 books a year) Alexander McCall Smith. I heard a repeat of his interview at the Sydney Writers Festival in 2013 and he was hilarious and laughed along with the audience at his own jokes and the madness of life. I’ve just bought his book on his favourite poet What W.H. Auden Can Do For You.

pups

JEFFREY MASSON:  I’ve just read Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s latest book  BEASTS – What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil.  I think Jeffrey combines all of his experience, knowledge and intelligence in this book, examining the huge question of violence in humans and animals and the “search for the origins of human violence”.  It is a complex debate, and I found the book very thought provoking as he argues, for example, how agriculture, property ownership and the domestication of animals changed human behaviour.  The book contains fascinating information about many different animals and species, and the effects of human intervention in the natural life of animals.

Christian the lion is mentioned as an illustration of a wild animal expressing friendship and love for another species – especially a predator, and how Christian’s wild lioness friends “indulged” us which we also found astounding.  This made me think about Christian and the other lions in George Adamson’s man-made pride, as they were an “intervention” into the territory of wild lions already established at Kora.  These lions mostly tried to kill most of George’s introduced males and cubs, but mated with the lionesses.  Christian, however, seemed to come to what has been described as an unusual “truce” with them, but he ultimately had to look for his own territory elsewhere.  BEASTS  also made me think very deeply about the behaviour of cats!

 

WORLD: China is being quite confrontational/active/defensive in the South and East China Sea offending Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and the USA. Russia is getting more actively involved in Asia and cooperating much more with China (suppyling natural gas etc). 6 months after Super Typhoon Haiyan, thousands of survivors are still without homes in the Philippines. Military leaders seem to be on the move and are usually bad for the economy – and for press freedoms and democracy.  In Egypt an Australian journalist Peter Greste working for al-Jazeera has just received a 7 year jail sentence.  He and two other journalists have been caught in the machinations of the Saudi Arabia vs Qatar enmity.  al-Jazeera is based in Qatar and is regarded as the “mouthpiece” of the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.  Many of the Brotherhood are still facing imprisonment and even the death penalty in Egypt.  Saudi Arabia is now giving Egypt $12 billion, compared to $650 million in aid from the USA. The military are installed in Thailand and  Frank Bainimarama  is bound to win in Fiji. Ex general Pabowa Subianto, who has a terrible human rights record is gaining momentum for the next presidency in Indonesia, while the running mate of his opponent Joko Widodo also sounds pretty frightening.  Papua New Guinea’s PM Peter O’Neill is fighting corruption charges, and while we are not entirely innocent in Australia, corruption does seem endemic in our nearest neighbours PNG and Indonesia.

 

MAIL: Thanks to Scott, MoonieBlues, Bob, Tim, Aidan, Jeffrey, Sylvia and others for sending me interesting articles and images.  My thoughts are with William who lost his beloved cat O’Malley,  and Ines who takes in cats from shelters and recently lost another one called Bonnie.

To keep up to date with interesting articles and animal related activities all over the world see the latest Minding Animal Bulletin No22 here, especially about a Documentary Festival in New Delhi 13 -20 January 2015, and interesting articles and reviews in Vol 3 Number 1 of the Animal Studies Journal  here.

Possession Island by Gordon Bennett. Courtesy Museum of Sydney.

Possession Island by Gordon Bennett. Courtesy Museum of Sydney.

VALE: One of Australia’s leading artists Gordon Bennett has died unexpectedly. Many of his works concerned his identity as an Aboriginal person, but his subject matter and styles were wide ranging.  He could out post-modernist the post-modernists!  I was lucky to have known him and curated his work into several of my exhibitions.  He summed up what I wanted said so eloquently about colonisation – the way Daniel Boyd has more recently. He was highly intelligent, attractive and quite shy and private.  His work is currently in the Berlin Biennale.  See Richard Bell’s article on Gordon Bennett in The Guardian here. My condolences to his mother, his wife Leanne and daughter Caitlin.

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 Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

This is another still from my footage of our 1972 visit to Christian in Kenya, which was the last time we saw him.  Some of you have inquired about my short, unedited home movie.  In The Final Farewell on YouTube you can see equivalent (and more professional) footage from the same visit, while mine is just a little more close up and loving.

This, surprisingly, was the last time I was in Africa and I’d love to go back soon.  I later discovered India and visited many times, including staging exhibitions and cultural exchanges in India on behalf of the Australian Government.

LIONS: You can sign the AVAAZ petition here to ask President Zuma in South Africa to protect lions by banning the trade in lion bones.  There is of course no evidence these these “potions” have any efficacy.  This trade, like ivory, especially to Asia, just has to be stopped and urgently.  Depressingly, a subspecies of black rhinos, the Western Black rhino has recently been declared “officially extinct”.

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

NSW FIRES:  Thanks to many of you who were concerned about the bushfires around Sydney. They are terrifying and to date, it is unbelievable that no-one has died. The fire fighters – many of them volunteers, are heroic. Some fires are still burning and new ones have broken out, but seem “contained” for now.  I have a National Park at the top of my garden, and many many people will be on alert all of this summer.  Apparently people are better prepared about evacuating their pets than they are about themselves.  Horses are a logistical nightmare to evacuate quickly, and they can smell the fires well ahead of humans. Organisations like WIRES do an amazing job of treating and caring for injured wild animals.

Christiana Figueres, the UN Climate Change Negotiator, stated that extreme weather and the frequency and intensity of bush fires are a result of human induced global warming, and our PM responded by saying she was “talking through her hat”.  The most common causes of fires are fallen power lines, and arsonists.  New suburbs have always been spreading into bushland, but hopefully tighter regulations and more fire resistant houses will offer more protection in the future.

CLIMATE CHANGE:  Apparently the extreme weather is, once again, making Australians more concerned about climate change, and the government will appear more and more out of step – with the world.  Our thoughts and sympathies for the many people in the Philippines and region who have died or lost everything because of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst typhoons on record.  The scale of the catastrophe is still unfolding, with at least up to 9 million people effected.

With Rupert Murdoch owning 65% of our media, and the media exposure of climate deniers like the ubiquitous Andrew Bolt, it is hard to move the discourse beyond “is climate change real?”, to “what do we do about it?”. There is a very good article News Goes Feral by Robert Manne on Rupert Murdoch and his insidious influence in The Monthly.  An analysis of articles and reports about climate change in the Murdoch media indicates very clearly scandalously unbalanced reporting.   Ex PM John Howard has been in England addressing a group of climate sceptics. Howard obviously lied to us when he pretended to support action on climate change, when he was trying to win the election in 2007.  Now, rather than believe scientists,  and after reading only one widely discredited book (by Nigella Lawson’s father!), he says he would prefer to rely on his instinct, which told him predictions of doom were exaggerated!

The first budget cuts by the government were bodies concerned with climate change and science, no specific Minister of Science was appointed, and 1/4 of the scientists at the pre-eminent CSIRO science and research institution have been among the first of many expected job losses.

Although in danger of being “wedged” by the government over climate change, and held responsible for high electricity charges, the Labor Party has affirmed support for a carbon trading emissions scheme. The government never seems to be able to produce a reputable scientist or economist to endorse their alternative Direct Action plan where we tax payers pay the polluters to pollute, and presumably, to encourage them to stop.  This scheme will now hopefully be examined for its likely effectiveness – or as widely suspected, will be found to be completely inadequate, which is probably the original intention.

Our current bi-partisan target of a 5% cut in carbon emissions by 2020 is widely regarded as inadequate, which should apparently be around 15 -25%.  Although we are a small economy and population, we are the 3rd highest polluter per capita in the world, and we dig up and export so much coal.

I think Australia is now embarrassingly on the wrong side of history over climate change, and the government is not even bothering to send a Minister to the international climate change negotiations in Warsaw.  Our Minister of the Environment, who seems to consult Wikepedia for advice rather than scientists, cannot attend as he is so busy “repealing the carbon tax”!!!!  It is very Monty Pythonesque and would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

GET UP!  The SYDNEY DAY OF CLIMATE ACTION  is on Sunday 17th November in Prince Albert Park, Sydney at 11am – see full details here.  This protest is Australia wide, and I hope many people attend to demonstrate our concern and dissatisfaction with a government that does not listen to the conclusions based on research and examination of empirical data, by impartial scientists.

Jacaranda Bundeena 2013

Jacaranda Bundeena 2013

POLITICS (AUS):  Our PM recently invited several leading Murdoch journalists to dinner – reputedly as a “thank you” for their efforts helping him get elected, and Abbott recently dined with Alan Jones – one of the worst shock jocks. Apparently Murdoch also wants his “pound of flesh”, and would like the government to make it easier for him to acquire Channel Ten.

Even Coalition supporters are surprised by the new government’s secrecy, lack of transparency, and disregard for accountability.  Abbott, who has only spoken in slogans for the last three years, seems to be having difficulty stringing whole sentences together.  While hungry for publicity in Opposition on a daily basis, the government is refusing to give information on nearly anything!  In comparison, the now Opposition have three very formidable, reasonable and professional spokespeople in Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Chris Bowen.

For a scathing assessment of Tony Abbott and why many people are very worried about him, see Victoria Rollison’s  Open Letter to Laurie Oakes.   Oakes is one of several journalists complicit in the Labor Party election loss, and Coalition win.

The media is getting restless and angry with the government for starving them of material, and with parliament resuming this week, it will not be so easy to hide.  Wealthy Clive Palmer finally won his seat in Parliament, and through a few senators in his newly formed party will have a balance of power. He is a rogue conservative who makes outlandish accusations, and should prove to be a headache for the government.

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

Grevillea Bundeena 2013

After the hottest summer, winter and decade on record, this year many plants have flowered at least four weeks early. Complex and fragile natural cycles are consequently getting interrupted.  I love the grevilleas especially, and at this time of the year all over Sydney one can see colourful patches of the mauve/violet Jacaranda trees.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

GREAT BARRIER REEF: There will be an early test for the government in regard to the Great Barrier Reef, which UNESCO has listed as already “in danger”.  The Federal and State conservative governments seem to regard environmental regulations and protections as just an obstacle to business.  Decisions are expected from these governments in relation to 5 new or expanded coal ports along the Queensland coast. The subsequent dredging (and dumping) will put the Reef at even greater risk. The nearby Galilee Basin holds so much coal that if it is mined, it alone could push global temperatures up past 2 degrees.  This is also true of the Tar Sands in Canada where the transportation to the Alaskan coast (en route to China) also puts this area in great danger.

There are many factors threatening the health and beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, including the destructive crown of thorns star fish, and it is inconceivable that we let it be destroyed. A recent book The Reef by Iain McCalman, is a “passionate history” which includes the dangers the reef posed to early navigators such as Captain Cook, the formation of the coral, and the future the reef faces.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

USA: It was almost a relief to know that Obama was spying on world leaders like Angela Merkel, and not just us ordinary citizens. Hacking into Google and Yaho0! has angered many people. There seems to be no end to Edward Snowden’s fascinating revelations. Australia is part of a US-led global espionage network, and we are spying on our neighbours. While this should not surprise anyone, countries in the region have expressed appropriate indignation.  The Abbott Government’s relationship with Indonesia is particularly uneasy at the moment, and their initial attempts at diplomacy described as “inept”.

Congratulations to the extraordinary Serena Williams who had a 78-4 win-loss record in 2013, won 11 titles, and earned $US12,385,572. Unfortunately up to 50% of Americans are not so lucky and are living with “financial insecurity”. One in five children live in poverty. In Australia we are staggered by America’s low minimum wages.  The esteemed Joseph E Stiglitz has said America is a “rich country with poor people”  He wrote an excellent article in the New York Times earlier in the year titled Inequality is Holding Back the Recovery.

The $20 billion cost of the Tea Party-led shut down of the US Government was an inexcusable waste of money, and trashed their own reputation.  Perhaps the Republicans should have put the media spotlight on the many inexcusable teething problems over the introduction of Obamacare, rather than themselves.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

WEALTH: 35% of Russian wealth is in the hands of 110 billionaires, which is the highest level of inequality in the world.  Putin was recently named by Forbes magazine as the world’s most powerful man – through the power of the office he holds I gather and the largesse he can distribute.  Some are predicting however that Russia’s economy is faltering and this will change everything.

The median wealth of adult Australians is the world’s highest at $233,504 (US$219,500), although the Swiss beat us when measured by average wealth.  In Australia the richest 10% have gained almost 50% of the growth in income over the past three decades. In America the richest 1% gained almost half the growth in individual income over the same period.

The New York Times recently had an article with the headline: Rich People Just Care Less.  Apparently research has found the wealthy to be more selfish, less empathetic, less generous, and less compassionate.  It is an interesting and thought-provoking article, especially about what this social and economic inequality means for the future.  Americans however, do have a great tradition of philanthropy, which is, sadly, not very evident in Australia.

Magpie

Magpie

MIDDLE EAST:  Poor Secretary of State John Kerry zig zagging around the Middle East with such volatile issues to negotiate: Syrian chemical weapons, Iran’s nuclear future, Mursi’s trial in Egypt and much else no doubt. Israel’s decision to build 1500 new Israeli homes in East Jerusalem is extremely unhelpful to the “peace” negotiations with the Palestinians.  I/3 of Syrians have left their country and we won’t forget those images of Syrians finally escaping from their neighbourhoods where they had been imprisoned.  Some had resorted to eating cats, dogs and grass.  Australian soldiers are finally leaving Afghanistan which has cost us $7.5 billion, the deaths of 40 Australians and many injured, and an unknown number of civilian deaths.

Fairy Wren

Fairy Wren

BIRDS: In a recent poll the Fairy Wren was voted Australia’s favourite bird.  Magpies and Kookaburras (see images above) were the runners up.  I particularly like Kookaburras – they have lots of attitude.

MISC STATS:  In Australia: 65% of Queenslanders are overweight or obese; many of our trainee apprentices are illiterate and enumerate – as are a truly alarming % of Tasmanians; 25% of jockeys, and 40% of apprentice riders are now women; 30% of women in their 20s have tattoos.

SHADOWS:  We are all appalled by the level of corruption by some Labor politicians in NSW over the last decades which has been exposed at recent inquires, and  should result in criminal prosecutions. Also extremely depressing are inquires here into child abuse in institutions, with the Roman Catholic clergy the principal, but not the only, offenders. The reputation of the church is being fiercely protected ahead of concerns for victims. There are estimates that 50% of Roman Catholic clergy (worldwide) enjoy active consensual sex.  So much for celibacy.  In Ireland ¼ of Irish women have been abused as children, and 1/3 of men.

from FERAL an exhibition by Sylvia Ross at Mary Place Gallery, Paddington, Sydney, November 13-23

From FERAL an exhibition by Sylvia Ross at Mary Place Gallery, Paddington, Sydney, November 13-23

This image from the exhibition FERAL by Sylvia Ross (co-exhibiting with Emanuel Raft) shows the beauty of a pigeon, widely considered a pest in Australia.  Sylvia Ross is an artist, long time Head of the School of Art (COFA UNSW), social activist and dedicated animal lover.

Sylvia sent me these dog photographs which are amusing.

dogs1 dogs2 dogs3 dogs4 dogs5 dogs6 dogs7 dogs8 dogs9 dogs10 dogs11 dogs12

MAIL: I have been asked lately where to buy the A Lion Called Christian DVD and the best source is via Amazon or Blink Films, and via Amazon for the book. I am encouraging  anyone to write and post their animal stories, or their feeling about Christian, on www.alioncalledchristian.com.au.  It is my fault that it is not as up to date as it should be and I’m checking back for stories I have overlooked.  It will be a marvellous archive of your touching and interesting animal stories.

READING: Ashamed by my confession of my lack of reading last blog, I threw myself into the biggest book I could find – Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Often named by people as their favourite book, it was extremely readable, and it provided a very thorough context for what was to happen in Russia in the early 20th century. Anna was a fascinating character beautifully created by Tolstoy, although I could not quite conjure a mental picture of how she looked or her age.  I became a little exhausted by the spell of her beauty and her melodramatic life, and I was always quite relieved to read about the duller Levin in the country, thinking about seemingly lost love, farming, labour, the landscape and the seasons. He thought he had “lived well but thought badly”.

WATCHING:  The series REDFERN NOW  is the best contemporary Australian television I have seen for ages, and I loved watching again David Bowie – Five Years In the Making of an Icon .

QUOTE: Winston Churchill apparently said “A dog looks up to you, a cat looks down at you, but a pig looks at you as an equal”.

Horse's skull with pink rose by Georgia O'Keeffe 1931 detail (LACMA)

Horse’s skull with pink rose by Georgia O’Keeffe 1931 detail (LACMA)

ART: The Art Gallery of NSW is currently holding an exhibition entitled America Painting a Nation.  I attended the crowded opening and can’t really yet say how successful I think it is as an overview, especially in comparison with the curation of the Australia exhibition in London which has been extensively criticised.  America certainly has many superb paintings and I always love seeing Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings especially.  I was unexpectedly surprised by a stunning blue painting by Lee Krasner in the exhibition, and I am more attracted to the contemporary American artists.

Edmund Capon, ex Director of the Art Gallery of NSW has hosted a comprehensive three part series The Art of Australia  which has just been aired.  It illustrates with some of our most interesting art, how art and artists have helped shape Australia’s national identity.

VALE: Recently the Australian art world has lost three important and influential artists:  Marea Gazzard; Roy Jackson and John Peart.  They were much admired and dearly loved.

BOURKE:  I’ve come to Bourke for a few days with a friend, the well-known photographer and fellow conservationist Jon Lewis.  Bourke is in a remote corner of NSW, the so called Gateway to the Outback.  There are 24 indigenous languages spoken here.  I have found it surprisingly attractive, with some beautiful historical buildings, and wide streets and green spaces.  Everyone has been very friendly and we are loving it.  It is a little strange seeing my name everywhere…..more next blog!

Christian 1972 by Ace Bourke

Christian 1972 by Ace Bourke

When we returned again to Kenya to visit Christian and George Adamson in 1972, I took a super 8 video camera.  I’ve finally had my very amateur footage transferred to DVD, and this photograph is a still from it.  The footage is a loving portrait of Christian – I remember thinking I will never remember just how beautiful all his markings were. He was growing into a very big lion, and was increasingly independent.  We didn’t know that we would never see him again. I recently showed this short, unedited footage for the first time, at a fund raising art exhibition for the Animal Welfare League NSW  in Sydney.

Animal Welfare League NSW:  I have visited the two animal shelters in Sydney (Ingleside and Kemps Creek) run by the Animal Welfare League NSW where dogs and cats wait to be “re-homed” to a suitable household.  The shelters are very well administered, in attractive settings, and depend on donations, sponsorship and the loving care of volunteers. Animals are well looked after and are assessed and  monitored by vets and animal behaviourists.  The AWL also campaigns, for example, against puppy farming, and acts on reports of animal cruelty.

Artists who generously participated in the AWL fund raising exhibition included Joanna Braithwaite (below), and Janet Laurence.   I recommend you watch Laurence’s beautiful and meditative series of animal and nature videos here.  Many artists these days are imaginatively examining human/animal and environmental inter-relationships.  They share a great love of animals and generously support causes related to animal welfare and rights.

Lengthy Tales by Joanna Braithwaite Courtesy Darren Knight Gallery.

Lengthy Tale 2013 by Joanna Braithwaite. Courtesy Darren Knight Gallery.

MAIL: Thanks for the responses to the last blog, and many of you also seem to enjoy Christian’s birthday. People loved and commented on Jiawei Shen’s portrait. Michele, for example, found the painting “mesmerising”. She also wrote “Christian is born in the month of Leo and has the life path of 9. He was born to be a spiritual gift to the universe – he was the consummate LION. The LION of LIONS!!

Joy Adamson with Elsa

Joy Adamson with Elsa. Source Elsa Conservation Trust.

ELSA: A few weeks ago I watched the documentary Elsa: the lioness who changed the world (you can view some of the clips here). The phenomenal success of Joy Adamson’s 1960 Born Free book (translated into 25 languages), and the subsequent film did help change how people thought about animals – especially “wild” animals. They were now viewed as individual beings, and hopefully this has made us more mindful of their futures. There were interviews with Virginia McKenna, who had played Joy Adamson in the film, and with Tony Fitzjohn who was George Adamson’s assistant at his camp at Kora and is now the Field Director for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust.

Joy Adamson took the most marvellous photographs of Elsa, who was, like Christian, an exceptional lion. George realised that they should have retained the three cubs, instead of sending two to a European Zoo, as this would have made it easier to rehabilitate Elsa.  Subsequently, he knew to build a pride around Christian.

There was some good footage of Christian, especially with Tony Fitzjohn.  Christian was the first lion Tony had met, and he said they were both like new boys finding their way in the wild.

Lion in Shaft of Light

Lion in Shaft of Light by Nick Brandt

NICK BRANDT: Source Photographica in Melbourne is having another exhibition of the majestic photographs of Nick Brandt from 5 -27 October. The exhibition is the final volume in a trilogy which has been presenting a “complex and deep portrait of Africa”, and it has been fascinating to watch Brandt chart this through his powerful and exceptionally beautiful photography.  It is hard not to be depressed that many of the subjects of his photographs are facing extinction, and that there is so little effective action to save them.  80 elephants have just been poisoned in Zimbabwe.  It should be inconceivable that we may see the end of the elephant, for example, in our life time, on our watch.

Elephant with Baby Nuzzled into Leg

Elephant with Baby Nuzzled into Leg by Nick Brandt

A recent radio interview referred to Indira Gandhi’s Project Tiger which she started in India in 1973 when the tiger was on the brink of extinction.  From an estimated 40,000 in the early 20th century, numbers had shrunk to approximately 1800 by 1973.  She introduced the Wildlife Protection Act in 1973, and hunting tigers was banned and reserves created. Unfortunately, after the assassinations of her and her son, the Indian government from 1992 up to the present have made bad and late decisions and neglected necessary reforms, and tiger numbers are now down to an estimated 1700.

AUSTRALIAN ELECTIONS: OK, my side lost the election and I’m a bad loser! It was inevitable however, and I hope the Labor Party rediscovers some fundamental values. It has been a hung parliament yet despite an adversarial, negative and policy-free Opposition, alot of legislation was passed, and some major reforms of national significance initiated.  But it has not been a pleasant time, and has felt like one long election campaign.  It is sort of a relief that it is finally over, even if it is back to the future.

There is only one woman in Prime Minister Abbott’s 20 person cabinet (described as “pale, male and stale”) and he is dismantling our Emissions Trading Scheme and any institutions associated with climate information or policy. The climate sceptics are showing their hands, and there is not even a Minister for Science. Their replacement scheme Direct Action is not taken seriously, but perhaps will now be under scrutiny. David Suzuki, who has been visiting Sydney, has written and spoken about how Abbott is “dooming future generations”, and that “willful blindness” should be an offence.

The recently released latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that there is a 95% certainty that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming in the atmosphere and the ocean.

In the SMH, RossGittins writes that in the election the public didn’t really like either contender, confirming my own feelings, and that Labor is the eternally dissatisfied party of “reform”, while the Libs are the conservatives, “satisfied with the world as is and trying to stave of disruptive change for as long as possible”.

In contrast to his noise and daily photo ops in opposition, the Abbott government has been almost invisible, and the politicians muzzled.   There were a few spiteful sackings of public servants.  The Minister of Defence wants to keep up a “war momentum” and has his hopes on possibilities in Pakistan.  There was an immediate spat with Indonesia, our closest neighbour, just before Abbott visited.

Rupert Murdoch had a big election win after a blatantly partisan campaign against the government in his newspapers.   Too many of his journalists tarnished their reputations.  A loose cannon self proclaimed billionaire got 3 Senators and possibly himself elected (subject to a recount), and also holding the balance of power are some wild cards with very few votes who got into the Senate on preference deals.

Giraffes Crossing Lake Bed

Giraffes Crossing Lake Bed by Nick Brandt

READING: I’ve actually been watching so much sport (from Rafa winning the US Open,  to football finals etc), I haven’t been reading books but I’ve heard or read interviews about:

Starting with Max is by Ying Ying who came to Australia from Hong Kong with her family, and who describes how having a dog has changed her life.  After the family cat “decided not to come to Australia and died”, she promised her daughter a dog in Sydney, much against her own wishes.  She of course fell in love with Max the dog and her daily walks in the park “awakened her senses”, and  opened her own eyes to the natural beauty of Australia.  He touched her heart and “made her a better person”.

FERAL, a recent book by George Monbiot, an environmental journalist who I have quoted in the past, is about our need for re-wilding – ‘to recover the animal in ourselves and in the Earth”.  He imagines forests regrowing, and animals returning – like the brown bears have in parts of Europe.  Wolves were exterminated from the Yellowstone National Park, but since their reintroduction there has been a restoration of plants, trees and soil, as the deer have been forced higher up the mountain.  There is an ongoing debate about deer in Bundeena – a family of deer live at the top of my garden in the Royal National Park.  As an introduced species, their eating habits do create environmental  problems.

Australian Wildlife Conservancy: Recently the Australian Wildlife Conservancy arranged for 6 artists to visit Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, their 6000 square kilometre conservancy in the Kimberley region of West Australia. The resulting excellent exhibition was opened by scientist/conservationist/writer/academic Tim Flannery – just sacked by the government as the chief climate commissioner!

I think conservancies and the buying up of tracts of land are an excellent future direction that offers the best protection.  In Africa various conservancies are trying to preserve or link uninterrupted corridors of land used as traditional migration routes for animals.

The AWC owns 23 properties in Australia covering 7.4 million acres.  They believe in “practical land management informed by strong science”.  These properties are offering protection to more than 1200 native animal species, and the AWC runs fire management and feral control programs.  It is possible to visit  and stay at some of their properties, observe land management practices, see wildlife and many birds, and fly in helicopters over spectacular scenery.

For visitors to Australia this would be a unique opportunity to visit a remote and beautiful part of Australia, especially with the opportunity to view Aboriginal art in places like Broome.

Needless to say, feral cats are the AWC’s  Enemy Number One!!!!

Devon Rex by Peter O'Dougherty

Devon Rex 2013 by Peter O’Doherty. Courtesy King Street Gallery.

WORLD: Obama was made to look “ham fisted” over Syria, and Putin took the chance to question American exceptionalism – in the New York Times. The chemical weapons issue just gives Assad more time to continue killing and displacing his own population.  The difficulty is  – especially post Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – another American intervention would be another grave mistake.

Sectarian violence is worsening In Iraq.  Banning the Muslim Brotherhood and forcing them underground in Egypt seems extremely provocative – they did actually win the election!  Some commentators are saying the Arab Spring has been replaced by Islamic terrorism, as most recently demonstrated in Nairobi. Oil has begun to flow again in Libya. The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has been surprisingly/suspiciously conciliatory to the US after 30 years. Pope Francis is sounding encouragingly human.

ECONOMY:  From my perusal of business reports in the media, some people are unfortunately warning about a new wave of global financial turmoil. Apparently new money from the printing presses of the US, EU and Japan have caused “a sucking of funds from emerging markets” i.e. countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa.

Fortunately China remains “reasonably robust”, and, according to the leaked internal memo Document 9, the Chinese leadership seems more worried about the dire threats and dangers posed by discussions of “democracy”, “universal values of human rights” and a “free press”.

Ned Kelly by Sidney Nolan

Ned Kelly 1946 by Sidney Nolan. Source Royal Academy of Arts

LONDON: A large exhibition entitled Australia has opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. There are 200 paintings from 200 years with 146 artists, with the broad theme of “landscape”.  While it contains most of our major artists and some iconic paintings, it has been criticised for being too general, and curatorially old fashioned.  One critic described the Aboriginal art as “tourist tat”.  As some of the most widely admired Aboriginal artists are represented, few would agree with him.  Australian art has been overlooked in the UK for a long time, and this now quite controversial exhibition may – or may not – lead to an interest in more focused exhibitions of Australian art.

USA: I have to mention even more mass shootings in the US recently.  As the mother of a victim said about Congress “Who else has to die before you get it?”.  I think in Australia we find it hard to imagine how the National Gun Lobby is so powerful and even seem to be extending its influence.

Apparently in The Right Nation, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge argue that the “centre of gravity of America opinion is much further to the right” than in other rich countries.  The Republican Party can seem very heartless, especially at present with the current threats to defund Obamacare, and to “shut down” the government.

The sophisticated American Ambassador to Australia, Jeff Bleich, is returning to America.  When asked how similar Americans and Australians are, he said we are 80% the same and 20% different.  In Australia “there is a great levelling of all people and a great appreciation that no one should think too much of ourselves” and that successful Australians “wear their celebrity and their accomplishments very lightly”.

Panther Release ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Panther Release ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

William Abbey, who grew up in England and lives in Florida, has shared interests in some of the subjects I write about and like many of you, emails me about them.  I appreciate this, especially any information concerning animals and how we can help them.  William loves panthers and polar bears especially. Click here and here for two articles he has recently sent about the rehabilitation of the Florida panther, and organisations working for the protection of polar bears and their habitat.

Panther Kitten ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Panther Kitten ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

I recently enjoyed the exhibition Talk Show where artists responded to the “televisual landscape of this genre of syndicated entertainment”.  I bought a painting of Oprah Winfrey from artist Anney Bounpraseuth’s Wailing Wall series. Part Two, Talk Show (after the break) opens at Kudos Gallery, Paddington, Sydney on 15th October. I spoke to co-curator JD Reforma about appearing on Oprah and The View etc, and the exhibition did make me reflect on the “notion of celebrity”, and the “socioeconomic construction of failure and success”.  It was never one of my dreams to go on Oprah. It was a big audience to fail in front of!  While it was brilliant for Christian’s story of course, I personally found the whole experience rather nerve wracking!

Ace with Anney Bounpraseuth

Ace with Anney Bounpraseuth

Rubber Duck by Florentijn Hofman

Rubber Duck by Florentijn Hofman

ART: I was going to try and not do “cute” this blog, although this is often hard in relation to animals.  I was very offended by Rubber Duck (which is 15 metres tall) when it sailed into Darling Harbour as part of the Sydney Festival.  A suitable metaphor for Sydney I thought to myself.  Big and obvious.  Many of us are familiar with the marvellous monumental  installations of the artist Christo (his first major environmental project was wrapping part of our Sydney coastline in 1968/69),  and I thought Rubber Duck made even Jeff Koons and his huge Puppy seem subtle and interesting in comparison. However, the blog is not all about me and when I saw this great photograph in the newspaper, hypocrite that I am, I couldn’t resist using it. The public have loved it – and perhaps it does raise the question – what is art? – or does it matter?

Installation view, Anish Kapoor, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012/2013 Image courtesy and copyright the artist. Photograph: Alex Davies

Installation view, Anish Kapoor, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012/2013 Image courtesy and copyright the artist. Photograph: Alex Davies

Also making often monumental sculptural works, Anish Kapoor is at the Museum of Contemporary Art (until April) for his first comprehensive survey exhibition in Australia.  He is super cool – almost too much.  His works have a clinical  perfection, and are made from the most luxurious and expensive materials.  They are emotionally cold and Kapoor will not discuss their meaning – he just leaves it to us to interpret.  I remain an admirer but I was distracted by a surprisingly awkward installation and children running excitedly around the distorting surfaces of his polished mirrors, or staring into the illusionary concave voids.

Study for portrait of Eddy Batache 1979 by Francis Bacon

Study for portrait of Eddy Batache 1979 by Francis Bacon

Study for portrait of Reinhard Hassert 1979 by Francis Bacon

Study for portrait of Reinhard Hassert 1979 by Francis Bacon

In contrast, Francis Bacon’s work at the AGNSW (until February 24) is very emotionally affecting and engaging.  It is exciting to see the work of a great painter – especially spanning Five Decades. Descriptions of his work range from “depressing”, “joyless” and “haunting” to “beautiful” and “magnetic”!  While I tired of so many paintings given the same “staged” formulaic treatment, his smaller portraits are among the best and most powerful I have seen for a long time, and are poignant and illuminating.  I suppose some people may find the sexual nature of some of the work confronting, but I found the exhibition full of emotional intensity and like life, a mixture of love, anguish and pain.

SUMMER: While many of you in the northern hemisphere are having snowstorms, our summer here in Australia has not been all fun!  Lately, 70% of the country has had temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees. There have been severe bush fires in Tasmania, and many others in other states.  I think there has only been one fatality, although many homes have been lost and there have been thousands of animals killed, especially stock.  Now we have torrential storms and floods in Queensland and northern NSW.

I live surrounded by the Royal National Park and on a particularly hot and scary day recently we had a record 45.8 degrees in Sydney, and because I had to attend to family business out of town, I evacuated my most unwilling cats to my vet.  Although safe and well-looked after, they spent several days in a smallish cage beside yapping dogs, and sulked for quite a while afterwards. I’m only mentioning this as I find care for my cats when I want to go away is a difficult problem that many of us face.  Unfortunately I don’t have cat-loving neighbours.  I  have not liked any of the facilities for looking after animals that I have checked out, but I am grateful that they exist.  No doubt like many of you, I find moving cats at any time quite traumatic for them and me.  When I have moved house in the past I have locked the cats inside for 2 days before introducing them to their new outside world.  A couple in the US lost their cat on a holiday/excursion 320 kilometres away, and miraculously, the cat recently found it’s way home!

'Commander Skyring' Gang Gang Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

Commander Skyring Gang Gang Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

USA: It was exciting to see the Obama inauguration. I think we have become blasé about just how historically significant it was that he became President, and then won a second term.  They are such an attractive family, and Obama is capable of stirring oratory – when did we last hear any from our leaders?  It was a real surprise to hear the words “gay rights” or “gender equality” or “climate change” coming from an American President!!!  This was described as “goofy leftism” by a reactionary Republican, and rather than addressing the problem of their shrinking support base, which was apparent in  the election, Republicans will no doubt be as intransigent as ever over many of the very important issues facing the nation.  Let’s hope Obama can deliver.  He inherited a difficult legacy – the GFC, unnecessary wars etc., but he is not beyond criticism.  I am especially horrified by the obviously illegal killing of people by unmanned drones.

GUNS:  It is fascinating, if depressing to witness the power of  the National Rifle Association, with actually very few members. They cleverly monitor, target and threaten politicians to ensure their support against gun controls. Contact your politicians and express your views and encourage them to make a stand!  Statistics indicate clearly that lives are lost – not saved – by having so many guns in the community, or in homes.  I think it is pretty safe to say that the right to bear arms is not God-given!  In Australia we had an Amnesty over guns after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, but apparently there are now just as many illegal guns in circulation. Lately, there have been shootings everyday in Sydney, and whereas before quite minor differences or disputes could result in a punch up – now they shoot each other dead!

'Seissa' Palm Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

Seissa Palm Cockatoo 2012. Photograph by Leila Jeffreys. Courtesy Tim Olsen Gallery.

NSW: As I have mentioned before, to secure a vote for some particular legislation, the NSW Government is allowing hunting in some National Parks, which will be overseen by the Game Council.  This is the proverbial fox in charge of the henhouse.  It seems some members of the Game Council are now to be charged with cruelty to animals, hunting without a licence and trespassing.  There is growing opposition to the decision to permit hunting, and to the way the government makes decisions and does business in general, and many people now feel it will be too dangerous from March 1 to go into National Parks.

The 2012 State of the Environment report for NSW shows that Sydneysiders are breathing cleaner air, saving electricity, using more public transport and recycling.  While this is encouraging, overall in NSW there has been a steady deterioration of many native forests and wetlands, and biodiversity is declining with more species threatened than ever before.

Cuban Macaw by Ralph Steadman

Cuban Macaw by Ralph Steadman

Ralph Steadman, made famous by his illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was asked in 2011 to contribute a drawing of an extinct bird – and 110 works later, has produced a book Extinct Boids.  Most are real birds that did exist, but some he made up like the “needless smut”, “the lesser-blotted bitwing”, and the “blackened thront”.  Steadman was very alarmed to discover just how many species have been lost, and blames sailors, rats and cats for their extinction.

ENVIRONMENT: Our Environment Minister Tony Burke has some tricky problems to manage in the next few weeks. He will have to decide if he will overrule the NSW Government’s permission to expand Idemitsu’s Boggabri coalmine, and Whitehaven’s Maules Creek Mine.  There is quite a backstory here I won’t go into, but there is determined opposition from  the local community concerned about coal dust, contamination of the aquifers, the loss of thousands of hectares of critically endangered forest, and the threat to excellent agricultural land and animals.

The Minister will also be presented with a petition from GetUp! about government inaction over damage to the Great Barrier Reef from the construction of coal seam gas processing facilities, and proposals for massive new coal ports along the coast.

The government usually manage to wriggle out of actually confronting Japan over whaling in the southern ocean – hiding behind ” taking Japan to the International Court of Justice later in the year”.  Our Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who trades off his supposed environmental credentials, did not even raise the issue with a Japanese government minister who visited recently.

After boasting last week in an interview about Australia’s action on climate change and emissions, Bob Carr was forced to acknowledge that the forecast expansion of Australian coal mining and exports, will make us, after China, the second largest contributor in the world to new carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.

Shark fins on a roof in Hong Kong

Shark fins on a roof in Hong Kong

While I have a well-known fear of sharks since seeing Jaws now many years ago, I know they have their role to play and must be protected. This photograph of drying shark fins was absolutely shocking – the scale, the inherent cruelty, and the threat to the species – for soup?

ENERGY: I’m glad I don’t live in western Sydney where up to 66 coal seam gas wells may even be mined under houses!  I have not seen any evidence so far that this is a safe practice, or that the chemicals used will not be polluting the environment, and that water aquifers will not be adversely affected.  It was good to see that Yoko Ono was protesting against fracking in the US.  As previously discussed, bodies and organisations in NSW that do offer the community some advice and assistance against rampant unchecked development (like the Environmental Defenders Office) have had their funding cut after lobbying by the  mining industry.  This is part of a scheme to eliminate any legal challenges to new mining ventures, although it has been described by the government as “greater access to justice for the disadvantaged”! It would be funny if it wasn’t so appalling.

FACT CHECKING  FILE:  We have an election due by the end of the year so I am dreading how wound up I will get.  As we have compulsory voting, our politicians will be pitching to the lowest common denominator in marginal seats in the outer suburbs.

One of the best suggestions of the last few weeks was from Malcolm Turnbull (Coalition/Opposition) who suggested a fact checking website where information could be definitively presented and verified, and people held accountable for inaccurate or misleading statements.  An example could be: is human induced global warming happening?  (Turnbull knows this to be true, yet this was a factor in him losing his position as Leader of the Opposition).  So rather than arguing about is climate change real, we could all see the analysis and conclusions drawn from the scientific data, and actually move on to addressing it – ideally with bi-partisan support.

Another debate in Australia is the ALP Government’s response to the Global Financial Crisis.  From my reading (comments from the IMF, World Bank, a variety of experts and economists etc.)  the government’s quick reaction, and actions, were appropriate.  In the necessary haste, errors were made (and a few inexcusable deaths in the installation of insulation into houses).  Subsequently we have been one of the best performing economies in the world – indeed the “envy” of the world, although the Opposition have effectively scared many of the population into believing we are about to be bankrupt!  True or false?  While aspects of these questions are open to debate, surely at some point there is an objective analysis that can be made?

Another debate is over the carbon tax, although complaints against it have apparently dwindled, which may stop this issue being such a factor in the election. The Opposition have vowed to rescind this tax, with no details of course on what this would cost, or the disruption to the economy, and it has created uncertainty in the business community.  Carbon trading  is “sliding down the corporate agenda”  both here and overseas which apparently should be a “lure” for Australian companies liable to pay for carbon dioxide emissions.  Blackrock, one of the world’s biggest fund managers has recently said that the carbon and mining taxes have had “at most” a “marginal” impact on perceptions of country risk, and our public debt position is very strong.

I was fascinated to see the previous Howard government described by the IMF as one of the most profligate in our history. The profits from the mining boom were not used wisely,  middle class “welfare” was used to buy votes, and infrastructure was allowed to run down.  The much boasted about $20 billion surplus was more likely to have been achieved by selling Telstra (our telco) and Sydney Airport.  I do think the Whitlam Government was very lucky not to be mentioned.  Unfortunately the ALP seems to be unable to construct or sell a narrative of their legitimate economic achievements, and are also dogged by some unattractive scandals.

GETUP!: I was interested to see the make-up of the membership of our effective internet activist organisation.  4 in 10 members are over 56, and fewer than 7% are younger than 25.  GetUp! currently has a survey about what we think they should be doing which you can access here.  I’m going to suggest a Fact Checking File and GetUp! should have sufficient profile for people to have to respond and back up their claims with peer reviewed facts and data. 

LEFT & RIGHT: We are having a debate of sorts here about bias – especially in the Australian Broadcasting Service. I don’t agree that there is bias myself – I see reasonable, well-educated and informed people that give all politicians equally tough questioning, and address the issues of the day. The ABC is tax payer funded so it is legitimate to raise the question of bias, but there are plenty of other opportunities in Murdoch newspapers or on various radio stations for  Right leaning people like Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Divine etc, who are as objective as Sara Palin or Fox News in the US.

In 2009 we appeared on the same American television program as the precocious Jonathan Krohn.  The year before (aged 13) he had written a book entitled Defining Conservatism. He was astoundingly articulate and of course I couldn’t resist arguing with him (and his father) in the waiting room.  I was thrilled to recently read that in 2011 he openly declared he no longer held conservative views, although, of course, the conservatives turned on him.  He is much brighter than most of us and can no doubt defend himself and will probably have a fascinating career.

 

Harley the dog. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

Harley the dog. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

MONICA & HARLEY:  Harley is a most amazing dog and  I love following his exploits.  He even became friends and swam with a swan called James and was heart broken when he was found dead last year. Fortunately Monika Laryett-Olson takes great photographs.  She makes me feel like my love for my cats is…well, normal, as opposed to obsessive!  See a Harley story here, Harley – my Dog, my Hero.  I also loved the photographs of her visit to the Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples, Florida. See her album of favourite photographs for 2012  here.

OPRAH: Oprah, too, loves her dogs, and I did watch some of her interview with Lance Armstrong.  I thought Oprah looked great and her make-up was just fabulous. Before we went on her show in 2009  her make-up girls sprayed us with  something that I jokingly called spray botox as my face was sort of flatteringly bronzed and frozen into a smile.  Her program has been described as “confessional”, but we were there to talk about Christian of course, not confess!  Mark Zuckerberg was also on the same program as us, and Oprah asked him rather wistfully is she should be on Facebook and meet some people!

Lance Armstrong carefully stage-managed the interview, (like everything it else it seems), to hopefully clear the way for him to return to competition some time.  The interview seems to have raised even more questions however, and no real remorse was shown.

Our own great champion swimmer Ian Thorpe is also hoping for another comeback after his failure to even gain selection for the London Olympics. Please!  Both he and the openly gay Matthew Mitcham (a gold medal for diving in China) have recently written books apparently discussing the highs and lows of their careers and their depression.  I’d say Thorpe’s second comeback attempt is a recipe for more disappointment.  He actively supports very good causes – just get on with it!

TENNIS: There are tennis tournaments throughout January in Australia in the lead up to the Australian Open. The heat has been nearly unbearable and unacceptable for the players, and some  have even ended up on a drip.  There have been some amazing games and surprises – our young Bernard Tomic beat Novak Djokovic in a warm up tournament. Others, like Sam Stosur, have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.  Finally we seem to have some promising younger Australian players coming through.  I played tennis with former Wimbledon champion John Newcombe at school and have watched the dominance of Australia and America be replaced by waves of Swedes, Spaniards, Russians, Serbians and Croatians, and probably now the Chinese as Li Na makes tennis popular in China.  Our 31 year old Lleyton Hewitt is a good commentator with a surprising sense of humour, and Jim Courier is very insightful. My favourite players over the years have been Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, and now Rafael Nadal.  I usually got bored if anyone dominated for too long.  We have been incredibly lucky to witness the truly exceptional tennis over the last few years between Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray.  For a variety of reasons I’ve also loved Yvonne Cawley (Goolagong), Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Goran Ivanisevic, and I the fabulous Williams sisters.  Serena’s career earnings are now over $41,797,909 while Maria Sharapova is the top female earner followed by Li Na.

Harley and James the swan. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

Harley and James the swan. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

ROSS GITTINS: I felt naive after reading this article by Gittins in the SMH about the 4 “complexes” that run the world.  The article mostly quotes Jeffrey Sach’s  book The Price of Civilization.  It helps to explain why: wars are fought; how the GFC occurred and vital reforms are not implemented, and the “corporatocracy”, unlike many of us, bounced back quickly;  why Obamacare is described and demonised as “socialism”; how climate change is kept off the agenda and why we are seeing a fall in value of the world’s renewable energy companies.  These complexes are obvious but it is good to be reminded of them and see how they all feed into each other, with corporate power translating into political power.  They are: the military- industrial complex; the Wall Street- Washington complex; the Big Oil – transport – military complex; and the huge healthcare industry.

WEALTH: The 1% have got even richer and the top 100 are now worth a combined $US1.9 trillion.  Our poor Gina Rinehart dropped $US1.6 billion (because of softer iron prices, and poor investments in media she hopes to influence) and now has only $US 18.6 billion.  Gina actively campaigned against a mining tax, and last year was insensitive enough to say that African workers are “happy” earning $2 a day.

Think what could be achieved globally with this wealth if many of them followed the generous examples of Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett?

See this George Monbiot article where he explains that contrary to what we are told, the idea that “the less government tax the rich, defend workers and redistribute wealth, the more prosperous everyone will be” has been a total failure.    Monbiot says this “trickle-down effect” as I think it is called, has only led to increased inequality, more unemployment, with consequently less demand, and more debt.  In general, he does not believe that perpetual economic growth is either sustainable or desirable.

ISRAEL: As I said last blog I was waiting to see Obama’s pay-back to Netanyahu for his blatant and miscalculated support of Romney in the US election. It did not take long – Obama’s appointment of former Republican Chuck Hagel as Defence Secretary, who, it seems, dares to treat Israel in an even-handed way, and has said “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here”.

Although cost of living concerns are understandable as a key election issue in Israel, it was very depressing that in their recent election peace (“shalom”) was not even mentioned, and some extreme Right politicians even said they wanted to expand the settlements to ensure there could not be a Palestinian state.

But congratulations to the Israelis for not voting for the Far Right as expected, which resulted in Netanyahu’s “plummet to victory” with fewer seats.  The emergence of Yair Lapid the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party, with the next highest number of seats, is encouraging, and he wants to work with Netanyahu in a coalition rather than oppose him.  He wants to reopen peace negotiations with the Palestinians and said “we are facing a world that is liable to ostracise us because of the deadlock in the peace process”.  This changed landscape in Israel and America, and hopefully a more constrained Netanyahu, gives me some slight optimism.

Meanwhile in the region, people continue to die in Syria, and huge numbers of refugees are swamping neighbouring countries.  Assad’s own mother has left Syria, as have quite a few Russians and their families.  The down-side of the Arab Spring is emerging with the instability in north Africa and the well-armed Islamist terrorist organisations.

Shy Wolf Sanctuary. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

Shy Wolf Sanctuary. Photograph by Monika Laryett-Olson.

CHINA: While the Chinese Government struggle to control their propaganda and censor the internet, another juggling act is with social media where the Chinese people can now complain effectively, as they did recently with the totally unacceptable pollution in the air in Beijing.  There have also been several mass “airport rage” incidences over cancelled flights. The improved Chinese economic growth of 7.9%  in the last quarter will help to keep many people happy for now, and this has also helped our economic outlook in Australia.

Advising Australia not to be drawn into China’s simmering territorial regional disputes, a Colonel Liu Mingfu recently described Japan as a “wolf”,  America as a “tiger” and he said that Australia should be a “kind-hearted lamb” that should not behave like a “jackal”.

Tourism from China to Australia is growing and up from the 542,000 Chinese that visited in 2011.

R.I.P Pluto

R.I.P Pluto

MAIL: I was upset to be informed by Christian in Italy that his beloved dog Pluto had died at 15.  He was a great companion as we can imagine, and my sympathy is with Christian, and with anyone else experiencing a similar loss.

Thanks to those that emailed me with concern about the fires.  Thanks to Joyce for her comment last blog about where she finds news that is fair, in-depth and free – including Livestation Al Jazeera, France 24, SkyNews, South African, RTI (Russian News) and the BBC.

I am behind in my emails again – both on the blog and the website, and I apologise.  Unfortunately I lost a few emails that  came through mistakenly as Spam and then disappeared into the ether. I am very appreciative of anyone that does email and I intend to respond soon.  I’ve just had a quick look at the emails I haven’t answered yet, and many are from people that have just discovered Christian the lion’s story.  Frankly, I am overwhelmed – by the number, the lovely sentiments expressed, and that  Christian still means so much to so many people.

It is the Australia Day Weekend, celebrating when the First Fleet arrived in Australia in 1788.  Understandably Aboriginals call it Invasion Day, and while a holiday is always nice, I’ll feel much more comfortable when there has been some genuine reconciliation, and compensation for their dispossession.  I’d also like Australia to grow up and finally become a republic.

Christian The Lion painting

Christian The Lion painting by Karen Neal

New Zealand artist Karen Neal has captured a very good likeness of Christian many of us can recognise. She very generously donated the proceeds of the sale of the painting to the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust. There are limited edition prints of this image and you can contact the artist direct on her website.

It is the first day of summer and the weather here has been wonderful, and after some rain, the drive through the Royal National Park to Bundeena is beautiful, with many flowering native trees.  The jacarandas, oleanders and bougainvillea have also been particularly beautiful throughout the suburbs. In the Blue Mountains last weekend I saw waratahs and rhododendrons in the prettiest colours. I have resurrected my vegetable garden and have eaten some salad greens already. While I was mulching some of the plants on my hands and knees, one of the cats jumped on my back like a jockey. Always so helpful.

Bougainvillea, Bundeena

Bougainvillea, Bundeena

AUSTRALIA: Our political debate recently has mostly been name calling rather than examining important legislation the government somehow keeps generating.  The Opposition just says “no” to everything and produces few alternative policies.  To counter accusations that he is a “misogynist”, the Opposition leader has suddenly surrounded himself in public by his wife, his statuesque daughters and he even trotted out his mother and sisters.  He has been letting his female Deputy lead parliamentary attacks. Neither leader is popular but Julia Gillard is clawing Labor’s way back in the polls and this is enough to keep deposed, but ever circling PM Kevin Rudd at bay.

However, the PM is being dogged by a 20 year old darkening shadow from her past when as a lawyer she did some work for a boyfriend who it seems turned out to be pretty dodgy.  This story has been prosecuted primarily by Murdoch’s The Australian over many months, and an increasingly shrill Opposition keeping it alive.  So far there are insinuations and alleged discrepancies, but not precise accusations or proof of any wrongdoing.

Another shadow is the ridiculous promise to return the budget to surplus, which is looking very unlikely, especially with the drop in commodity prices, a 45% decline in Chinese investment in Australia, and no income from the contentious mining tax.

STATES: The new conservative governments in Queensland and New South Wales have between them opened the way for development unfettered by some previous environmental safeguards, or access to legal advice by communities from bodies such as EDO . Uranium exploration and nuclear energy are back on the agenda.  National Parks are suddenly vulnerable to shooters, horses and cattle grazing etc.  Public service jobs have been cut and while the respected Gonski Report recommended that $6 billion needs to be spent nationally to remove the inequalities in the education system, the NSW Government  responded by slashing  the education budget.  Some Arts courses have been eliminated or made prohibitively expensive and even a major literary prize has been scrapped.

Meanwhile the previous Labor government is being exposed and humiliated at ICAC for actions involving a powerful family and their mates, inside information from a disgraced ex Mineral Resources Minister, and the potential for them to make many millions of dollars through alleged corruption in relation to coal exploration leases and tenders.

On Sunday I attended a protest in Bundeena against shooting in National Parks.  Bundeena is surrounded by the Royal National Park (and the sea) and thankfully we are exempt from shooters.  The NSW Government needs the votes of the Shooters Party to get legislation through the Upper House and are blatantly prepared to accomodate their cruel, anachronistic ideas and practices.  Apart from the danger to bush walkers and others, the indiscriminate shooting of feral animals makes no contribution to environmental conservation or preservation.  We are being encouraged to write to the Premier Barry O’Farrell c/- Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney 2000.

Jacaranda, Bundeena

Jacaranda, Bundeena

CLERGY: Recently a policeman wrote a letter to the NSW Premier about the lack of action by police and the Catholic Church on child sexual abuse by clergy.  This has now led to a broad national Royal Commission which will encompass all institutions and organisations involved with children. The Catholic Church has felt “smeared” by reports in the media of their inaction and obfuscation, but six times more accusations are against the Roman Catholic Church, with very few incidents reported to the police.  The interests of the Catholic Church always seems to be put ahead of the victims.  After a meeting with Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, the parents of two abused young girls described him as a “sociopath with a lack of empathy”.

Meanwhile the Anglican Church has a former oil industry executive Justin Welby as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Although women have been ordained clergy for 20 years, a recent decision still prevents them from becoming bishops. This is a very disheartening, especially as more women than men are joining the ministry.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Conditions for asylum seekers living in tents in Nauru, possibly for years, have been described as “appalling” and “completely unacceptable” by Amnesty International.  More than 7500 Australia bound asylum seekers have arrived by boat since August, not discouraged by the hypocritical and inhumane government policies, or the very dangerous journey (7 asylum seeker boats have sunk in 3 years with the loss of 400 lives).  Appallingly, the “race to the bottom” by both parties just gets deeper and deeper.  Australia’s mainland was even excised from our migration zone!

Into seas without a shore, 2012. Photograph by Mark Kimber. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Mark Kimber builds miniature sets with added special effects, and then photographs them. I think he is very creative and imaginative and this image of the ship is so evocative – and ambiguous, I could not resist buying it. I loved many of the photographs in his recent exhibition The Pale Mirror.

ENVIRONMENT: Our Environment Minister Tony Burke has been very busy and quite successful with some highly contentious issues.  He has juggled the competing interests in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (irrigators, communities, environmentalists etc), and placated opposition by spending a “flood” of money over the last few years on already beneficial  infrastructure and “buy-backs”.  Environmentalists still think that not enough water will be returned to maintain the health of the rivers.  The long running forestry dispute in Tasmania may be finally close to a resolution, or a workable compromise.  The supertrawler has been banned from fishing in Australian waters for two years and the Japanese have cancelled this year’s whale hunt.

2.3 million square kilometres of Marine Parks around Australia have been declared.  Unfortunately there has been a 50% increase in coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef – due to agricultural run-off, hurricanes, but primarily star of thorns. There is a GetUp! campaign asking for support to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and to ask Tony Burke to commission an independent scientific review of mining operations affecting the reef.  The dredging to build new port facilities on the coast of Queensland is proving very destructive.

Catlin Seaview Survey

Catlin Seaview Survey

Log onto Catlin Seaview Survey to explore the Great Barrier Reef while we have it!  The Australian Marine Conservation Society International Union for Conservation of Nature lists endangered fish – and what  fish we should eat and not eat.

LIVE EXPORTS:  With the recent cruel and unnecessary slaughter of 20,000 Australian sheep in Pakistan, the live animal exports issue is again being debated.  Apparently New Zealand has phased out live exports trading which has been profitably replaced by domestic processes.

CLIMATE CHANGE:  I think we are at the point of accepting  – no longer debating, that the climate is changing and  global warming is a factor, and humans contribute to this.  People will debate timelines, severity, solutions etc, but many more countries are beginning to understand the urgency and are taking action. It took Hurricane Sandy however, to finally have the words “climate change” mentioned during the US presidential campaign. According to a very alarming Report to climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar, the release of greenhouse gases from the melting of the Arctic permafrost “could ultimately account for up to 39% of total emissions”.

In Australia, official meteorological records kept over 100 years from across Australia, have shown that there has been a 1 degree rise in land and sea temperatures.  Spring now comes two weeks earlier and we are having more rain “than ever”.  The World Bank has forecast what could be a disastrous rise of 4 degrees before the end of the century – also confirmed by a UN Environment Program report, while Price Waterhouse-Coopers forecast 6 degrees. Much greater effort needs to be made urgently by all countries. With the carbon “tax” implemented, Australia may even be ahead of our projected targets and timelines.

Rather disgracefully, many of our own scientists felt it necessary to go to Canberra recently to protest at how their research on, for example, climate change, sustainable stocks etc is questioned or ignored, and underfunded.

ENERGY:  Sixty- six coal seam gas wells may be scattered throughout dense Sydney suburbs, just as new research shows considerable amounts of methane are being released into the atmosphere from CSG.  The public is finally understanding what has caused the huge rise in electricity prices over the last few years (“poles and wires”), with the carbon price/tax, accounting for only 10% of the rise.  Coal consumption is down 30% in the US, and solar seems to be more and more widely utilised. Ten percent of Australia’s energy is now “clean energy”.

At Jenny Kee’s recent exhibition "Expressions of Waratah" with the painting 45 Million Years of Beauty

At Jenny Kee’s recent exhibition “Expressions of Waratah” with the painting 45 Million Years of Beauty

MEDIA:  I, fortunately, can work from home mostly. I listen avidly to the news on radio early in the morning (Fran Kelly Radio National), and read the Sydney Morning Herald when it is delivered. Like a robot I turn off the radio and sit at my computer at 9 am – it must be my Protestant work ethic. Lately I have been loving listening to the radio much more throughout the day.  Friends, especially artists in their studios, have been telling me this for years.  There are so many interesting people out there that know about such diverse and fascinating subjects, and they have often just written a book about it.

The ubiquitous ex PM Kevin Rudd has been giving interviews from all over the world, at any hour of the day or night.  He interviewed Radio National host Phillip Adams and they were both very intelligent and interesting.  What a pity Rudd apparently was such a control freak and difficult and demanding to work with.

The always interesting and sometimes controversial Aboriginal academic Marcia Langton is giving the annual Boyer series of lectures – so far about the supposedly surprising emergence of an Aboriginal middle class, and the opportunities for some in the mining industry. Marcia is a supporter of Noel Pearson and the Intervention in Aboriginal communities, and she seems to be getting more conservative.  Perhaps she has just seen too many failed policies in the past – including the idealistic but seemingly now disparaged policy of Aboriginal “self-determination”. People that object to the destruction and degradation of the environment caused by mining were described by Marcia as “a ragtag team of wilderness campaigners and… disaffected Aboriginal protesters”.

The six part series Redfern Now on the ABC has been an excellent and tough portrayal of the lives and problems confronted by many Aboriginals in the city – including  tensions between those that are in the new middle class, and some of the extended family and friends living in places like Redfern who are not doing so well. Redfern is a gritty inner city Sydney suburb, close to the Central train terminal and handy for Aboriginal country visitors. Many Aboriginal families have lived their for generations and have a very strong attachment to the place and the community.  As it is close to the city it is now undergoing gentrification, and many Aboriginals and others will be displaced.

Journalist Mark Colvin’s Andrew Olle lecture was very interesting about the media.  We know newspapers may have 5-10 years left.  There will be very little time (or budget) for investigative journalism. News will be computer generated by an algorithm.  There will be an even greater explosion in blogging and information dissemination through social media – much of it which is generated by spin doctors and publicists.  The Director of the ABC quoted a reporter out covering Hurricane Sandy in Lower Manhattan, who said he was more up to date by watching the live time action of the many twitter feeds throughout the city as the storm advanced.

GAZA: The Israeli/Palestinian war seemed to be announced on Twitter and other social media portals.  The assassination of Ahmed Jabari, head of the Hamas military wing was posted immediately on YouTube by the Israeli Government.  There was no world outcry at the assassination of a government official – just an almost 100% support for Israel for retaliating against the also unacceptable rockets fired from Gaza on Israeli citizens.

The Australian-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group is one of the largest in Parliament with 78 members.  The informal group for Palestine is 20. Victorian Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou said “What I struggle to understand, there seems to be this fear of offending Israel…To be honest with you, I don’t get it. This is an international issue and if you take an intellectual approach to it, it’s about an ongoing occupation that goes to the question of  justice, one people being subjugated by another….I can’t see how my colleagues can’t see this. I don’t understand how you can refuse to see what is happening to the Palestinian people is wrong”.  Expressing opinions about either side does not necessarily mean you are anti the other side or reject their right to exist.  Surely there can be no security for Israel until the Palestinians feel much less aggrieved, and somehow, a peaceful two- state coexistence established.

The PM is a staunch supporter of Israel and was rolled overwhelmingly by the party caucus into voting “abstain” instead of “against” the very successful vote for observer status for Palestine in the UN.  I think there is an international attitudinal sea change happening, with the “peace process” being recognised for what it is – more a “stalling process”.  A lack of any resolution provides more time for settlements to encroach into the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making a  viable Palestine less and less possible.

Gillard was warned (by her friends) that to vote  with the US and Israel against the rest of the world would be “on the wrong side of history”.  She argued that voting in favour of Palestine would “hurt the peace process” because the US has threatened to withdraw funding for the Palestinian Authority.  No doubt the Palestinians will be punished by Israel over the UN vote, and the US should be increasing financial support for the Palestinians and helping them to build their economy, not threatening them.

Apparently our Foreign Minister Senator Carr believes that “as a friend of Israel, at times you’ve got to save it from itself”.  This reminded me of another remark made years ago: “the Palestinians never miss a chance to miss an opportunity”.

Egypt’s President Mursi earned international praise for his role in the Gaza cease fire, although I’d say it was more Obama’s influence behind the scenes. It is however another indicator of the various and complex changed scenarios, agendas and realignments in the region, post Arab Spring, that require new strategies and approaches.  Next day Mursi granted himself wide autocratic powers “to speed up the transition to democracy”!  This move was primarily aimed at circumventing the judiciary, who are made up of many Mubarek appointments, and who annulled Mursi’s first attempt to form a constitutional assembly.  It has been back to Tahrir Square.

Lives continue to be lost as the war drags on in Syria but the world seems to have given up caring or counting the deaths… 40,000 in 20 months, and millions of refugees now facing winter.

Christian and George Adamson

Christian and George Adamson

MAIL: I received an email from Minding Animals International which detailed upcoming Preconference and Partner Events in New York, Cape Town, Gold Coast, Sydney, Vienna and Berlin. Thanks for the photographs of Christian (and other animal photographs) found on the internet by some of you like Usasportswarrior and Deb, and interesting stories, articles, and emails etc from Elaine, Lisa, Scott, William, Diego, Heulwen, Laverne and others, and apologies for late replies.

VALE: Albie Thoms, film-maker, writer, social historian, and a lovely person who will be very much missed.

US: The world seemed to be holding its collective breath for the US Presidential election, and now for the looming “fiscal cliff” of December 31st.  Still experiencing hard times, a majority of Americans voted very intelligently, and even backed same sex marriage in three states, and a liberalising of some drug laws in others. Romney had a better than expected campaign but the Republican Party has a shrinking base and was shown to be “too old, and too white, too male”.  Unfortunately at a time like this, that calls for reform and attempts to reach a wider support base, parties apparently usually get even more conservative, as evidenced by the emergence and appeal of the Tea Party. Four billion dollars were spent. The Republicans were outmanoeuvred by Obama’s very sophisticated campaigning technology, and  well organised  network of volunteers. Hurricane Sandy did interrupt Romney’s momentum. Yes, there is a degree of schadenfreude for big losers like Karl Rove, Fox News, tweeter Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, who I’m sure Obama would love to pay back for his support of Romney against him. On the other hand, Nat Silver picked the winners in all 50 states.

Every cat should have it's own dog!

Every cat should have it’s own dog!

CHINA: While we may never know – or now ever care about what Mitt Romney actually believes, we know much less about the new Chinese leadership. Xi Jinping is apparently comparatively worldly wise and travelled. Old Jiang Zemin still seems very influential, and this gang of 7 are not known to be reformers. We have at least learnt more about some of the immense wealth some of them have amassed – like US$2.7 billion for the family of Wen Jiaboa.

MISC STATS:  One hundred shootings in Sydney this year -several over the last few days; chances of winning at poker machines 13%; 1 in 8 Australians are living in poverty; 70% Australian males are overweight and 56% of women (while the obesity epidemic  in the US is now lowering life spans); in the top 500 ASX companies 12 have female CEOs, 9.2% have women in senior executive roles, and two thirds have no women on their boards; our Future Fund has invested $37 million in tobacco; as much as a third of some African nations have been purchased by wealthy nations for food production; recent research indicates “nice and less competitive” baboons have longer lives, while chimpanzees and orang-utans slip into a mid-life malaise before bouncing back in old age!

ONLINE EDUCATION: I love the idea of  the many educational opportunities that will increasingly be available online like the Massive Online Open Courses.  I am hoping many courses will be inexpensive and accessible to people previously excluded. Universities are becoming so expensive to operate in their present form as to be unsustainable. It would be sad, however, to lose aspects of university life like the positive social opportunities, face to face contact with lecturers and tutors, and the stimulation of campus life.

I was interested in this article by George Monbiot in the SMH  Children must experience nature in order to learn it’s worth saving. Apart from the existential environmental crises we face, as children’s lives are increasingly removed and disconnected from the natural world, “the young people we might have expected to lead the defence of nature have less and less to do with it”.

Monbiot quotes from Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, that in one generation “the proportion of children playing in wild places in Britain has fallen from more than half, to fewer than one in ten”.  Reasons for this include: a 90% decrease since the 1970s in the areas in the UK where children may play without supervision; parent’s fears; and the quality of indoor entertainment.

People have said to me that part of the attraction of our story with Christian is that it represents a less regulated time when there was more freedom to pursue outdoor activities and have adventures and take risks. We certainly do not encourage others to buy wild animals however, and we now see how by buying Christian we were perpetuating the trade in exotic animals. While our experience with Christian has obviously been a highlight of my life, and he was just so full of personality and amazing to know,  it was also always potentially dangerous, and carried great responsibilities to him and the people around us.

Govett's Leap Blue Mountains

Govett’s Leap Blue Mountains